July 26, 2021

Fed up with Airbnb

In the fall of 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia are two roommates in San Francisco at the end of difficult months. Also, when their owner announces a rent increase, they decide to accommodate – for remuneration – three travelers on inflatable mattresses (“air bed”) and to offer them breakfast (“breakfast”).

The experience was so popular that the two roommates developed the concept and, with Nathan Blecharczyk, Joe’s ex-roommate and Harvard graduate, launched the Airbedandbreakfast.com platform. All over the world, it becomes possible to make ends meet by renting a room, an apartment, a house (even a castle or a cabin). Travelers are setting out to conquer the new world of Airbnb, with the dual interest of staying at a reduced price and with locals, like a bed and breakfast with a messy charm.

On these points Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk are building the success of a start-up which now lists more than 3 million homes in 65,000 cities in 191 countries. Enough to satisfy more than 200 million travelers, including 3 million French people this summer alone!

Except that. Ten years after the first rental san franciscanaise, Airbnb is just a shadow of itself. The start-up has turned into a soulless multinational. The promises to make ends meet, to travel cheaper and to experience a “local” life were lost in a (juicy) business. “It was better before” ? It seems like…

A must for my travels

Illustration of a reservation on Airbnb (Melanie Wenger / Isopix / Sipa)

Airbnb has changed.

The service started slowly in France in 2011, first of all appealing to the famous “young, urban, connected” people. Like Céline, 29 years old:

“I was a student and needed a little extra income at the end of the month. I started renting my apartment on Airbnb.”

Twenty-six rentals and three years later, the young woman however withdrew her ad after several bad experiences, “including a person who had stolen things from me, left cannabis everywhere, and my apartment turned upside down”. Céline is then confined to the tenant box, because “cheaper than hotels”.

It then joins my experience. Since 2012, Airbnb has established itself as a must-have for my travels, both for personal and professional. But, more than the financial interest, it is the friendly meeting with “locals” that seduced me.

A villa in Tuscany, a room in Caen, an apartment in Strasbourg, a maid’s room in Barcelona, ​​a loft in Tel Aviv, a room in Cologne … As many memories as enriching experiences. Each arrival was the occasion for a real exchange with the lessor, who gave information on the use of his habitat, shared his tourist advice and good addresses. A sort of premium couch surfing.

I remember having rented a tastefully decorated F2 three years ago in Brooklyn, which a young couple entrusted to me with all their belongings. From their clothes to an impressive collection of vinyl records. Airbnb was then based on an exchange and an important relationship of trust.

Copy and paste and Ikea sheets

Three rooms rented on Airbnb in Lyon, Péruwelz (Belgium) and Paris
Three rooms rented on Airbnb in Lyon, Péruwelz (Belgium) and Paris

Today, these assets are no more. As the vast survey published by “Le Monde” shows, one in five advertisements in France is now issued by a multi-owner. Airbnb has turned into a flourishing business.

This results in cities being emptied of their inhabitants. But also, for users, by a mass of witness rooms and apartments, without life. Everywhere, we find these accommodations with the same Ikea bed sets, the same decorations in garish colors from Maisons du Monde, etc.

Worse, these multi-owner rental companies no longer bother with a meeting with their tenants, delegating the various tasks to “little hands” (underpaid according to “Le Monde”), while the advice boils down to copied and pasted tourist guides.

Tourist suggestions received as part of a rental in Rome
Suggestions received in connection with a rental in Rome

Illustration of this loss of contact: Airbnb is now promoting the installation of a connected front door (which opens via an app) or a digital lock (via a code) for access to housing. The lessor can then send all his information directly to his lessee by written message, without ever having to cross him.

However, the American seems aware of this loss of humanity, which he tries to counteract with his “Experiences”, tourist activities in addition to accommodation. He boasts: “Airbnb experiences bring you people and their passions, at the heart of their local community. With location recommendations, discover the hidden gems of your destination. Our platform allows everyone to earn a little extra money. income by renting a spare room or by sharing his passions, his interests and his city. “

Rising prices

Another major change: traveling with the site no longer appears so financially interesting! In addition to the commission charged by the platform (6 to 12% for tenants), the hosts have spread the word to add to the price of their overnight stays various costs (cleaning, late arrival, presence of animals, sheets and towels, etc.).

As a result, Airbnb’s rates are not that competitive anymore. For a room or an apartment in Marseille, it takes an average of 100 euros (excluding Airbnb commission and cleaning costs), against an average of 95 euros for hotels in the city, according to the index established by Trivago. It’s even worse in Nice with an average Airbnb price of 278 euros, compared to 151 euros for hotels!

According to INSEE, the average price of a night in a two-star hotel with breakfast included is 81 euros for two people, where Airbnb’s ads for entire accommodation in large cities are around a hundred. ‘euros (112 euros in Paris).

Voracity of personal information

Ultimate disappointment: the greediness of Airbnb. Now the leader of a market that he himself created, the site imposes its rules. During a recent reservation attempt, I was thus confronted with the new policy of “maintaining an environment of trust” which requires the user to have a copy of their identity card or passport. Otherwise, no reservation possible.

A foray into official documents also experienced by Céline: “This week, when I wanted to book, I was asked for my ID and a photo of myself live to compare. I therefore sent my travel card. identity with some blurred information (the number of the card, my signature and my size). This was rejected by Airbnb, which nevertheless announced that it was simply using the photo for comparison … “

The request for an identity document by Airbnb
The request for an identity document by Airbnb

When asked, the platform specifies that this request can be made “for several reasons, in particular if you wish to make a reservation or if a host requires that travelers provide an identity document before making a reservation”. Even if it means centralizing a database of 140 million pieces of identity, liable to be (one day) hacked. Another problem: in detail, the platform specifies that these very official identity papers can be sent to the parent company in the United States, to Irish and Chinese subsidiaries, and “to third parties who may be outside the EEE [espace économique européen].”

Contacted, the National Commission for Informatics and Freedoms (Cnil) was not available for comment. On the other hand, a document from the CNIL specifies that, legally:

“The merchant, to ensure the identity of the holder of the bank card, may request proof of identity and / or address.”

In addition, European legislation nonetheless regulates: “A copy of an identity document may be kept for the purposes of proof of the exercise of a right of access, rectification or opposition or to meet an obligation legal “for a maximum of one year.

Not sure that’s enough to convince me to stay loyal to Airbnb. Céline is more decided: “I’m really thinking of unsubscribing …”

Boris Manenti